How to Get Your Dream Job in a Bad Market

Last Updated Jun 13, 2011 12:06 PM EDT

Are you worried that the poor job market will thwart your dreams of landing your ideal job? Relax. You could be in a much better position than you think.

First of all, it's actually rare for someone to truly be able to define their dream job. So if you know what you're looking for, you're ahead of the pack. Most people only have a vague sense of what it means to love their job or be happy at work, and usually this notion has no basis in reality. (I've written before that jobs do not make people happy and people should not insist on doing what they love for their work.) So if you really do have a specific job description in mind, here are four steps that will help you realize your career dreams.

1. Focus on job sectors that are doing the worst.
Not to get a job, of course, because the most depressed fields are those least likely to be hiring. So forget being a newspaper reporter or a TV media buyer. But as some professions die, others sprout up in their place. Focus on the dying areas to get a jump start on applications in the fast growing opportunities that spring up on top of the decay. So, instead of pursing print advertising, look into online advertising. Blogging replaces newspaper reporting. Mobile apps replace closed networks. Even porn has its own new opportunities.

2. Act like an employed person.
Employed people talk about ideas that excite them; they go out all the time to see and be seen. They also dress up. Unemployed people like to hide. It's easier, and it's exhausting trying to land your dream job all day and getting only rejections. So save some energy for fun after work so you can hang out with the other people who have dream jobs.

The decades-long Framingham Heart Study found that who you hang out with impacts you way more than you'd imagine. Fat people make you fat, happy people make you happy, and people drinking to avoid reality will make you drink more as well. Hanging out with successful people will make you more successful, too.

3. Stalk people.
Only 3 to 5 percent of job hunters find employment through online job sites. When you submit your resume via an online application, you get dumped into an applicant tracking system that sorts you by keyword. Often qualified applicants get weeded out before a human ever even sees their resume. So your best bet is to figure out the exact manager at the exact company where your dream job resides, and then get to the manager in person.

Track their online activity like you're a private detective. This does not mean that you message them via LinkedIn. This means you watch online communities the person comments in, conferences the person attends, papers the person writes and who they associate with. Figure out what makes the hiring manager tick, and then introduce yourself in person, with conversation that will interest them. This is the disintermediation of recruiting.

4. Take a dream job instead of waiting for someone to give it to you.
If you really believe you have the skills to do your dream job, just start doing it. Now. Don't wait for permission. Do you want to sell an iPhone app or do marketing for Nike? Create an ad campaign for your portfolio. Or sell someone else's product online in a niche market. Either way you'll make it hard for a company to say no to hiring you to do the same excellent job that you did for free.

Each one of us has dreams for our life. Many of those dreams we cannot control. But your dreams for the kind of work you do? Those are dreams you can take for yourself.

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